Tag Archives: Epiphany


Today the Church celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord (even though the official date is January 6.)

Though most think of the Epiphany as the manifestation of the baby Jesus to the Magi from afar, the liturgy actually speaks of two additional epiphanies, the manifestation of Jesus at the Jordan when John baptizes him and his manifestation at the Wedding of Cana.

The word epiphany has taken on wider meaning in our culture – almost any revelation of the transcendent, of the meaning of things which suddenly becomes apparent.

The most well-known use of the term “epiphany,” in my mind, is the Epiphany of Thomas Merton on the streets of Louisville, Kentucky, on March 18, 1958. In Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, he wrote:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness. The whole illusion of a separate holy existence is a dream. Not that I question the reality of my vocation, or of my monastic life: but the conception of “separation from the world” that we have in the monastery too easily presents itself as a complete illusion: the illusion that by making vows we become a different species of being, pseudo-angels, “spiritual men,” men of interior life, what have you.
… we are in the same world as everybody else, the world of the bomb, the world of race hatred, the world of technology, the world of mass media, big business, revolution, and all the rest. We take a different attitude to all these things, for we belong to God. Yet so does everybody else belong to God. We just happen to be conscious of it, and to make a profession out of this consciousness. But does that entitle us to consider ourselves different, or even better, than others? The whole idea is preposterous.
This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud. And I suppose my happiness could have taken form in the words: “Thank God, thank God that I am like other men, that I am only a man among others.”…
It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race! To think that such a commonplace realization should suddenly seem like news that one holds the winning ticket in a cosmic sweepstake.
I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me now that I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.…
Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other. But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift.

This past year I have received three such gifts, when I have almost been close to tears.

78561792_162583658444578_6917570456895619072_n copyThe first was at the parish Christ the King celebration.

After the Mass, a tradition is to carry the monstrance with the consecrated host through the crowd, while praying and singing. Many seek to touch the monstrance, seeking a tactile connection with Jesus. Padre German began the procession through the crowd and then invited me to carry the monstrance. As I walked through the crowd, many came close – women of all ages, men, children, young people, frail elderly women. I had a very strong sense that people were come in their pain, in their suffering, in their need and bringing them to the Lord – maybe seeking to tough Him as the woman with the flow of blood sought to touch the hem of his garment (Matthew 9: 20-22). Recognizing the pain of the people I was close to tears.

The second time was at the 9 pm Christmas Mass in the Dulce Nombre church. After Communion, Padre German had me take the image of the Baby Jesus and process down the main aisle of the church to place it in the manger scene at the back of the church. As I carried the infant, I did not focus on getting to the manger. I moved the image so that it could be seen, face on, by the people in the pews. Again, I had the sense of Jesus being present to the people there.

The third time was yesterday at the diocesan Mass for the World Day of Peace. As has happened several times when distributing Communion at diocesan Masses, I found myself moved as I placed Jesus on the tongue or in the hand of those who approached to receive. So much faith and so much desire for Jesus brought me, again, close to tears.

Were these my epiphanies, the ways that Jesus is showing Himself to me to encourage me and deepen my faith?

I don’t know. But something is happening.

The Epiphany – Eliot and Ferlinghetti

The feast of the Epiphany fills many people with wonder. There are these wise men from afar, a star in the sky, a babe in a manger, and extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (whatever that is).

Though we know nothing about their number, their race, or their names, the mythic story unfolds. They arrive on camels. There are three of them, though the Gospel doesn’t mention a number. They are of three different race and bear the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar.


But, seemingly indifferent to the message of a savage king, Herod, and the tales of his household priests, they find themselves amazed at seeing a star. But, when they enter the house, there is nothing amazing there – just a mother and child. Yet they fall down and worship.

It’s a story that arouses our wonder, that amazes us.

As I was preparing my homily today, I came across two poems that, in very different ways, plumb the depths of this day.

T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi: is a classic. It’s worth your while to listen to the poem being read by T. S. Eliot himself or Sir Alec Guinness. The text is here.

Eliot speaks in the voice of one of the Magi, years later, recalling the journey. After recalling the hassles, he notes, in an almost nonchalant way:

…and so we continued,
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon,
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.

Not splendid, not overwhelming, but “satisfactory.”

But then Eliot reflects that this birth was “like Death, our death.” For this birth changes something in us and makes us uneasy with our old gods, our old ways. And so, “I should be glad of another death.”

The second poem comes from an unlikely author, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. “Christ climbed down,” which you can read here has five stanzas that have Christ coming down, “from his bare tree,” and running away from the trappings of Christmas, especially the tinsel trees, the Santa Clauses, the department store nativity scenes, and the winter wonderland caroling. But the last stanza opens up to us where Christ might come down:

Christ climbed down
from His bare Tree
this year
and softly stole away into
some anonymous Mary’s womb again
where in the darkest night
of everybody’s anonymous soul
He awaits again
an unimaginable
and impossibly
Immaculate Reconception
the very craziest
of Second Comings

Christ comes in anonymity, as he did to the Magi, so that we can reconceive the coming of Christ – in our souls.

And so I recall the words of the Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart:

“What good is it for me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I don’t give birth to God’s son in my person and my culture and my times?”

Fear or joy

When King Herod heard this,
he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
[The Magi] were overjoyed at seeing the star.
Matthew 2: 3,10

When Herod heard of the birth of Jesus he was filled with fear and his fear contaminated the whole city. Not finding out where the Child was, he sent troops from afar to try to kill him.

When the Magi saw the star they were overjoyed and, entering the house, adored the child Jesus.

DSC00816Herod in fear sought death; the Magi, filled with joy, share their gifts.

What will we choose today: fear and death-dealing or joy and sharing?

That may be the real question for the Epiphany.

Where will God be manifest today?

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Epiphany, the manifestation of the Lord. The official date is January 6, but in many places the feast is celebrated on the closest Sunday so that we might remember the feast.

Sant' Apollinaro Nuovo, Ravenna

Sant’ Apollinaro Nuovo, Ravenna

In the West we think of this day as the day of the three Magi, the three wise men, who arrived and worshipped Jesus. But it is not at all clear that there were three wise men, that they were kings,  or even that they arrived when Jesus was still in the manger. Some would dismiss this as great story with little fact.

That doesn’t bother me at all.

Epiphany is a day when we celebrated God-made-flesh made known to the people of all the world.

One tradition tells us that the represent three different races. God has come for everyone and he wants to be known by all.

Today is a day when we should keep our eyes open for the signs of God’s presence among us, he manifestations of God in Word and Sacrament, but also in the family member in need of a loving word, in the neighbor in need of our help, in a world in need of peace.

Let us open our eyes, follow the stars, and rejoice in the manifestation of the Lord in our midst.

The peace of Epiphany

Salvadoran martyr and archbishop, Monseñor Oscar Romero, spoke of peace in his 1978 Epiphany homily:

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution
of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism. Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.
In it each one has a place in this beautiful family,
which the Epiphany brightens for us with God’s light.

May this vision of peace guide us this year.